The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) has just published new guidance on the selection of protected sites for amphibians and reptiles. The guidance sets out when the three country agencies – Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and NatureScot – can select Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) on the basis of their amphibian or reptile populations. SSSIs are designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). They receive protection from potentially harmful activities, and landowners are supported to manage the land in a way that helps the wildlife for which the site was notified.

The new version of the site selection guidance is a significant revision to the original, published in 1989. Since then, there have been many changes in knowledge, status and threats relating to amphibians and reptiles, meaning that the original guidance was substantially out of step with modern conservation needs and processes. ARC has worked with the country agencies over recent years to describe the changes needed, following investigations into the strengths and weaknesses of the original guidance.

Adders stand to benefit from changes to SSSI guidance. Photo Jim Foster/ARC

Improvements in the new version include: explanation of SSSIs in the current legislative context; better recognition of widespread yet declining species such as common toad and adder; ability to select sites for pool frog; strengthened guidance on interpreting survey results; more robust guidance on selecting appropriate site boundaries; consideration of climate change and reintroductions.

ARC’s Conservation Director, Jim Foster, said “We are delighted to see this new guidance, which will give the agencies much-needed tools to improve site protection for amphibians and reptiles. In particular, we welcome new advice on site boundaries, better inclusion of widespread species like the adder, and climate change implications. We look forward to seeing the guidance put into action.

ARC would like to thank Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot and JNCC for seeking advice from ARC during their revision of the SSSI selection criteria. ARC would like to pay tribute to the late Dr Liz Howe, who initiated this project and who is much missed.

Full reference: Bernhard, T., Driver, D., Dyer, S., Edgar, P., Ellis, M., Foster, J., Howe, E., McKinnell, J., and Raynor, R. 2022. Guidelines for the Selection of Biological SSSIs. Part 2: Detailed Guidelines for Habitats and Species Groups. Chapter 18 Reptiles and Amphibians. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.

The guidance is available from the JNCC website.